Some circuits give their corners names, others numbers – but sooner or later the corners acquire names anyway – because corners have character, and characters have names. At the oldest circuits, these names are etched into history: they develop their own legends over the years, alternately famous and infamous depending on the events that unfold. Here’s six of the best at Monaco.
During race week Ste. Devote is most famous for the exit barrier which someone – often many someones – will tag. It’s a commitment corner, and those who realise a little late that they’re not going to make it have the option of bailing out to the left into the little, tiled courtyard where there’s just about enough room to donut and continue. While the drivers probably aren’t enjoying the view, it’s here they’ll be able to see the little chapel of Sainte-Dévote, patron saint of Monaco (and Corsica), tucked away up this ravine-like side street, from which steps lead up towards the train station.
Massenet is so named after composer Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet, or rather his bust, which resides on a plinth outside the Opera House, which in tacked onto the Casino. Massenet is very quick (for Monaco) but with the drivers braking for the much slower Casino corner, which follows. The barrier on the outside has more than its fair share of dents.
There used to be a Mirabeau hotel here, though it’s now been converted into an apartment block (modernist – but with just a hint of Le Corbusier brutalism). Mirabeau is… tricky. Before the braking zone there’s the big bump that drivers have been driving around for ever, and the Tip Top bar, which, in the immortal words of Graham Hill, is ‘a little bar which doesn't seem to have much to recommend in it except that it sells drink’. Sadly, modern drivers don’t have quite the stamina of Mr Monaco and thus aren’t to be found in there carousing at 4am on a Monday morning after the race, trophy propped up incongruously on a bar stool. The corner itself dips downhill and to the right, with a huge amount of camber. Once upon a time drivers could use the guttering on the inside to help them turn in – but the angle is so steep modern cars are likely to be on three wheels if they get anywhere near the apex. There’s a bail-out spot on the left. Nico Rosberg used it in 2014, bringing out the yellow flag and effectively ending qualifying early. Fortunately for Nico, he was already in P1. That was lucky eh!
It isn’t called Loews… but it is. The Hairpin started out as the Station Hairpin, before the train station moved. Then it was Loews Hairpin after the Loews hotel built on the site. After that it’s had a string of names as the hotel has changed hands: Grand Hairpin, Sun Casino Hairpin, and now Fairmont Hairpin. For the purpose of simplicity, it’s called Loews. It’s the tightest corner in F1 and teams deploy all sorts of fancy steering racks and trick wishbones to get around it as rapidly as possible. There’s the odd overtaking move here but most of them end badly – and if they end really badly the road gets blocked and everything stops.
The Nouvelle Chicane.
The New Chicane isn’t particularly new, having been in place since the mid-1980s, when it replaced the Chicane du Port. It’s a terrible overtaking spot but the best Monaco has to offer – not so much for the profile of the corner but for the difficulty of the approach. Building Loews hotel also created the tunnel, from which drivers emerge blinded as they go from shade to dazzling sunlight (usually) just at the moment they hit their top speed. The gradient of the hill down which they plunge makes braking difficult – and more so because the gradient changes. On a moped the slope suddenly gets slightly steeper – at F1 speed the cars fly over the top only a two-tone dixie horn away from being extras in the Dukes of Hazzard. There’s a history of lock-ups and some enormous crashes… as well as the occasional pass for position.
The infamy of any particular corner tends to vary from era to era, according to the relative ability of the cars: when a corner is taken on the limit of adhesion, possibly taken flat-out but maybe with a small feather, that’s when things get really interesting. In the modern era, the Swimming Pool section of the Circuit de Monaco is right up there.
The imposition of the Rainier III Nautical Stadium added an extra chicane to the circuit when it was constructed in 1972. Today it’s one of the most fearsome complexes in F1 – and one which the really good drivers tend to rave about. The entry is taken either flat or very close to flat, riding the kerbs and running very close to the barriers (How close is a matter of opinion). The second part isn’t quite so fast, but quite possibly it’s harder to negotiate. The drivers are braking and steering and trying to thread the eye of the proverbial needle, while avoiding the barrier at the entry of the apex, the sausage kerb in the middle of the chicane and the wall on exit. Touch any of them and it can ruin your whole weekend.
And that’s Monaco. Or, at least, some of Monaco. We could just as easily talk about Casino Square, Bas Mirabeau, Portier, the tunnel, Tabac, Rascasse or Antony Noghès because they’ve all got stories to tell.